New study will examine transfer of antibiotic resistance

Posted on 8th April 2013

A new research grant from the Wellcome Trust’s Seed Corn Fund is allowing Centre researchers to analyse the spread of antibiotic resistance genes in waste water.

The study will provide a comprehensive picture of the spread of antibiotic resistance genes carried by bacteriophages, and their diversity and prevalence in sewage collected from a Cornish waste water plant.

Increasing occurrence of antibiotic resistance in bacteria is a global problem, with an estimated 25,000 people dying in Europe each year from antibiotic-resistant infections. The transfer of antibiotic resistance genes between different strains and species of bacteria is thought to be the largest cause of difficult to treat infections caused by pathogens such as E. coli. One potentially important, but understudied, mechanism of this so-termed Horizontal Gene Transfer is the transfer of bacterial DNA by the viruses that infect bacteria.

Antibiotic resistance genes are abundant in the natural environment, particularly in areas influenced by human pollution. With high concentrations of antibiotic residue, bacteria and phages, waste water treatment plants represent an ideal environment for both the evolution and transfer of resistant genes.

This research is attempting to understand how genes from bacterial viruses can lead to resistance in the bacteria itself and is combining expertise in environmental and clinical microbiology with functional genomics and evolutionary biology.

The study’s lead investigator, Dr Michiel Vos said:

“This project will give us fresh insights into the importance of phage transduction in the spread of antibiotic resistance in environmental reservoirs. Our findings will be important in informing research-led changes in waste management.”

The study is being conducted by Dr Michiel Vos, Dr William Gaze and Dr Lihong Zhang of the Centre’s Microbial Systems group and has led to the creation of a new 6 month Technician position.

The Wellcome Trust’s Institutional Strategic Support Funds (ISSF) are provided to universities that currently receive significant funding support from the Wellcome Trust. The awards offer financial support for universities to enhance institutional strategies for the biomedical sciences, with each university matching the Trust’s contribution with an equivalent investment of their own.

Read more about the University of Exeter’s ISSF Seed Corn Fund here.

Further information regarding this study is available here

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